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Working Mothers, Working Women

Women's employment, in comparison with that of men, increased steadily after World War II. National statistics indicated that in 1950 women constituted 30.6 percent of the total number of employees. In 1960 the figure was 33.1 percent; in 1970 it was 39.4 percent; in 1980 it was 43.5 percent; in 1990 it was 46.0 percent; and in 1999 it was 48.2 percent (Rocznik Statystyczny 2000). Although women represent a growing percentage of all workers, there are higher numbers of unemployed women than unemployed men (in 2001 unemployed women represented 60 percent of the total number of unemployed). Polish legislation, when applied to working conditions, protects all women, including pregnant women and working mothers, from circumstances interfering with their (present or future) maternal roles. This plan creates a bias among employers who try to avoid hiring women because they are stereotyped as unreliable workers. It is a long tradition in Poland that women's individual needs and interests were secondary to the needs of the family, the nation, and the state. After 1989, such trends intensified. Polish men, dominating the public and political domain, are inefficient in managing the challenges of democracy and the free market (Lobodzińska 2000a). During intense political competition, reproductive rights became a bone of contention, moving the focus away from solutions to political and economic problems associated with women's employment. Under the circumstances of failure, it was easier to shift responsibility for unacceptable changes onto the shoulders of women. This translates into an informally sanctioned lack of occupational retraining programs for women, which escalates their unemployment. There is a silent acceptance of discriminatory hiring practices, limited sources of childcare and kindergartens, and obstruction of regulations aimed at protecting working pregnant women and working mothers taking care of small children. When businesses must reduce the numbers of workers, women are first to go. New and developing plants hire only a limited number of women (Titkow 2000; Malinowska 1995).

Women, in spite of achieving higher educational levels than men, are mainly occupied in lower priority industries: in food and clothing industries, in services, as mid-level clerical and health care personnel, teachers, and selected types of professionals (physicians, teachers in higher education, economists, etc.). Women's salaries on the average are about 30 percent lower then men's wages.

When comparing women's employment in particular age groups, in the same age category, a lower percentage of women are working than are men (see Table 3). Besides unemployment, women's maternal roles interrupt their employment (between 20–24) to take care of small children. They return to work when the children are older. Also, a proportionally lower percentage of women are economically active in older age categories because they cannot find work or must retire early.

Women's organizations try to retrain women to improve their marketable skills to prepare them for occupations that are more in demand and assure higher pay. At present, family policy and social services addressing family needs and securing equal opportunities for working mothers appears at the bottom of the political agenda (Karpiński 1995; Majman 2000).


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TABLE 3 Employment in Poland, 1999*
Age Men (%) Women (%)
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Additional topics

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaMarriage: Cultural AspectsPoland - Changes In Population And Demographic Structure Since The 1960s, Legislation Applied To Marriage, The Family, And Working Mothers